PARIS—A man beheaded a middle-school teacher in a suburb of the French capital on Friday afternoon, a killing that authorities were investigating as a possible terrorist attack.
Police shot and killed the suspected assailant after he attacked the teacher with a knife in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb west of Paris. The attack occurred near the school where the teacher worked, police said.
Authorities detained four people who are acquaintances of the suspected attacker, a judicial official said.
Officials didn’t disclose the suspect’s identity. They said the teacher was targeted for the content of one of his lessons. In a visit to the site of the attack, President Emmanuel Macron said the teacher was the victim of an Islamist terrorist act.
“One of our fellow citizens was assassinated today because he was teaching. Because he was teaching students the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe and to not believe,” Mr. Macron said.
The assault comes as France is rife with tensions stemming from the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo that massacred the satirical publication’s newsroom and scarred France’s national psyche. That attack sparked an outpouring of solidarity around the world as Charlie Hebdo became a symbol of tensions between free speech and Islamic teachings that forbid depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. In the years that followed, France suffered a string of attacks that killed hundreds.
Last month, France opened a trial of alleged accomplices in the attack on Charlie Hebdo and a deadly assault days later on a kosher grocery store. Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons, describing them as evidence in the trial.
Weeks later, a man attacked two people with a butcher’s knife outside the former office of Charlie Hebdo, seriously wounding them. The suspect, a Pakistani immigrant, later told police that he was avenging Prophet Muhammad after the magazine republished the cartoons, according to France’s antiterrorism prosecutor.
Mr. Macron’s government has recently moved to outlaw what he called “Islamic separatism” in communities where he said religious laws are taking precedence over civil ones. Mr. Macron said the law, if passed, would empower authorities to shut down associations and schools that he said indoctrinate children, and monitor foreign investment in religious organizations in France.
In targeting a teacher, Friday’s attack is likely to amplify calls for a crackdown on religious extremism.
“It’s the Republic that’s been attacked with this ignoble killing of one of its servants, a teacher,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer wrote on
“Unity and resolve are the only way to respond to the monstrosity of Islamist terrorism.”
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